A few weeks into 2010, one of my favourite films of the previous decade was released to Region 1 DVD. Since the film was by then about 3 years old, I’d already ponied up for the Region 2 release (it was one of the major triggers for me to finally get that region free player), but I was still delighted to see it out in North America. I’ve told scads of people about it and hope that many of them find their way to it soon – simply because I think it’s absolutely brilliant.
Director Roy Andersson’s You, The Living (or Du Levande in Swedish) is his follow-up to 2000’s wonderful Songs From The Second Floor. If you listen to Row Three’s Cinecast podcasts, you will have heard Kurt sing the praises of “Song” after a recent viewing at Toronto’s Cinematheque. There was a group of about 7 of us going to see it and I was the sole person to have viewed it previously. Though I didn’t have anything to do with any of them selecting the film for their evening’s entertainment, I was absolutely thrilled when each one of them greatly admired the gorgeous framing of the film’s static camera and it’s very black comedic approach to the idea that “being human is hard”. It’s a unique view of what life in purgatory might be like – if there was also a lot of deadpan humour. You, The Living shares many similar characteristics with its predecessor.
Each vignette in the film is presented via a mostly unmoving camera (the camera moves more often in this film, but most of the time it’s subtle) and a washed out colour palette. As is typical of Andersson (at least with these films and the vast number of his TV commercials available to see on YouTube), his framing of a scene is impeccable. Far from being crammed with too much information, the frames allow your eye to roam around the picture – characters in the foreground and background, a door or window that is bound to show something in a minute or two, the slow movement of a particular object or a person’s actions, etc. It’s in many of these moments that much of the film’s humour is found.
It’s also strangely moving. In fact, there’s a particular moment in this film…It occurs just after a lengthy joyous dream a young woman has of marrying the guitarist she has recently met in a bar. It’s a truly beautiful sequence that gives this lonely and somewhat alienated woman the chance to feel loved and recognized. It ends, though, and we’re back to the reality that this paradise will not come true. We cut to a woman casually sitting in a bathtub and she begins to sing. She’s singing this song we had heard not 10 minutes ago in a funeral scene, but now there’s this haunting beauty to it…And at that moment (when I first saw this film at TIFF in 2007) I almost burst into tears. I’m not completely sure why actually. Likely it was mostly due to the music which was simply goosebump beautiful, but after many of the stark images we’d been supplied with so far – the nightmares recounted, the dreams dashed, the happiness that seemed so far out of reach of the characters – this simple song seemed to capture everything that these people were missing.
“Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe’s ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot.”
Through the many half-dead looking characters and short static washed out scenes, that above quote from the beginning of the film seems to say “find enjoyment in life where you can and make the most of it – because time is ticking…”. The people in this film, uncommunicative and wallowing in their self-pity, are just completely unable to do that. Fortunately, those watching it will be provided with a great experience.